Let’s Get Whimsical

Posted on April 22, 2009 – 2:59 PM | by OldManFoster
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It’s hard to miss Autumn Sky as she weaves her way through a crowded room of fans, friends and well-wishers. On this cold Saturday night at Luigi’s Fungarden, the 20 year-old folk-pop singer/songwriter’s vintage canary-yellow dress and sparkling silver high heels flitter like a lightning bug against the bundled-up dark browns and grays of the all-ages audience. Sky is sharing a bill with Ricky Berger and Be Brave Bold Robot in support of Sister Crayon’s CD release, and making last-minute arrangements before her set.

Autumn SkyWhen she takes the stage, Sky sits on a stool with her guitar, Sam (named after the Hobbit), smiling into the microphone. Over the din of the audience, she says affably, “These are just a whole bunch of originals.” Then something unusual happens: as Sky begins to strum and sing, the audience chatter instantly stops. Adults, teens and toddlers are all held in rapt attention as Sky’s pitch-perfect voice fills the room.

When her first song ends, the capacity crowd erupts into loud cheers and hand claps. “There’s a good energy in this room,” Sky says cordially. “Is anyone here home schooled?” One side of the room answers back proudly: “Yeah!” During the course of her set, Sky will play her ukelele, named Lisa Marie, perform a trumpet solo sans trumpet, sing a “sad song” written on a dare, and impress anyone new to her whimsical brand of indie-folk with her talent, confidence and genuine good nature.

Autumn Sky Hall is the oldest of seven children and was home schooled for most of her teenage years. Over the course of her life, she’s lived on a prayer commune in Mendicino, taken voice lessons from Art LaPierre at American River College (after graduating high school early, no less) and learned to play over 15 instruments which, in addition to the guitar and ukelele, include the auto harp, piano, violin and harmonica.

“I’ve been singing since I was a little girl,” Sky says of her musical background.  Her mom, whom Sky describes as a former “punk rock skater”, was a huge influence. “My mother plays guitar. And violin. And drums. Yeah, she plays a lot of stuff, too.”
Sky’s singing voice is on par with Joanna Newsome’s poetic warble, Chan Marshall without the baggage and Jolie Holland, minus the Vaudevillian rain clouds. “I haven’t really listened to much of her stuff at all,” Sky says in response to the Holland comparison. “I have been compared to quite a few people, and she’s been in the mix of that. But no, not so far. I’ll have to go home and look her up.”

Then there’s that whole “whimsey” thing permeating her music. “I like melodramatic things. That stuff just really catches me,” Sky admits. “It’s out of the ordinary, but it still reverberates in people’s lives. That’s why fairy tales are still popular today. There’s a common theme that people really relate to.”

It could be easy for cynics to dismiss Autumn Sky’s cheerful moxie as an act – cynicism’s too easy, especially these days. But the versatility of her melodies, lyrics and talent transcend calculated gimmicks. It’s obvious that Sky’s comfortable with herself and honest with her music. “I’m a very cheerful, very happy person, and most people don’t understand it,” Sky says, candidly. “They think it’s like a contrived thing. Seriously I just feel inexplicably happy, pretty much all the time.”

“There’s no too-cool-for-school pretense that she carries,” says DJ Michael Leahy, the host of Cool As Folk on KDVS 90.3 FM (Fridays, 6-9pm). “She seems to really want to connect with her audience.” Leahy was impressed by Sky’s music and engaging personality when she played live on his show last summer. “Her songs have a range to them. They have a diverse quality that isn’t always found in your stereotypical folk songwriter.”

Sky draws her influences from myriad sources. She credits Bright Eyes, Edith Piaf, M. Ward, The Smiths, The Kinks and Billy Holiday as huge sources of musical inspiration, along with movies such as Amelie, Once and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and books like Alice In Wonderland, Where the Wild Things Are, and The Giving Tree. The poetry of e.e. cummings, however, may be Sky’s biggest influence.

“Some of the stuff that he’s written has literally moved me to tears,” she says. In fact, Sky is such a fan of cummings’ writing, she named her new album, All Which Isn’t Singing, after a line from one of his poems of the same name. The CD, which includes all seven of the songs from Sky’s previous EP, Diminutive, Petite, were both produced by Evan Palmer and Thomas Montoya of All On Seven Productions.

Montoya first met Sky when her mother introduced them at their church, Capital City Church International. “I didn’t know what to expect, ” says Montoya, “but once I heard her, I thought ‘this is the one.’” He was able to eventually convince Sky to take her music from the stage of the church’s Artisan gallery/café, to venues around the region. “She’s very talented. She should have international exposure.”

Sky estimates that she has played close to 300 shows. “In the last year I have cut back a lot because I’ve discovered the less shows you do, the more people show up,” she says, laughing. “When I was younger, I was much more gung-ho about it. I seriously spent four nights a week downtown playing shows at four different coffee shops every single week.”

That year-and-a-half of double booking shows and constant playing were experiences Sky doesn’t regret. “If you throw yourself in it and immerse yourself, eventually you have to get good.” Taking a cue from Steve Martin’s book The Pleasure of My Company, Sky took any and every gig she could. “You learn so much from experience. You have to get it where you can get it.”

Later this month (April 24th, to be exact), Sky is back at the Fungarden headlining her CD release show, sharing the bill with Adrian Bourgeois and The Early States. Given Sky’s popularity, there’s no doubt that the room will once again be packed with fans, friends and well-wishers: a support base Sky considers herself “…lucky to have.”

For someone whose sad songs even sound hopeful, perhaps Sacramento is lucky to have Autumn Sky, too.

Autumn Sky will perform at her record release party on April 24th at Luigi’s Fun Garden, 1050 20th St, Sacramento.  For more info:  www.myspace.com/autumnskymyspace

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